06 February 2018

Contributing to a new book on
the cultural reception of the Bible

‘The cultural reception of the Bible: explorations in theology, literature and the arts’ … a new book from Four Courts Press this summer

Patrick Comerford

In recent days, the Four Courts Press in Dublin has published its catalogue for 2018.

As is usual, the list ranges over almost 2,000 years, and takes readers from mediaeval Santiago de Compostela and the Elizabethan court via the revolutionary Atlantic, by way of the grave of Wolfe Tone and mass graves in mediaeval Donegal to Louth, Derry and Limerick in the Irish revolutionary period.

On the way, the catalogue offers a wide variety of reading matter, including the lives of saints, some mediaeval epigraphy, explorations of the Bible, the contents of various 18th and 19th century libraries, assorted Irish music documents, extracts from the Irish Citizen, as well as a selection of regional and Sunday newspapers.

Fellow travellers include Roger Mortimer, Earl of March, the land-grabbing Richard Boyle, first Earl of Cork, reformers Lord Cloncurry and Archbishop Whately, Lady Butler, Victorian war artist, members of the Redmond political dynasty and a whole host of Revenue Police, suffragettes, Dublin goldsmiths, Brigidine Sisters and Irish fishermen.

I am delighted to be included among the contributors to one of the new books in this catalogue. The cultural reception of the Bible: explorations in theology, literature and the arts is edited by Salvador Ryan, Professor of Ecclesiastical History at Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth, and Liam Tracey, Professor of Liturgy at Maynooth.

This book is a festschrift in honour of Brendan McConvery, who I first got to know when he was Lecturer in Sacred Scripture at the Holy Ghost Missionary College, Dublin, when I studying for a Maynooth BD. Later, he was Dean of Faculty of Theology at Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth, editor of Reality, and archivist for the Irish Redemptorists. As might be expected, many of the contributors to this new book include his fellow Redemptorists and his former colleagues in Maynooth.

In 30 essays, this wide-ranging volume examines the cultural impact of biblical texts, from the early Middle Ages to the present day, on areas such as theology, philosophy, ethics, ecology, politics, literature, art, music and film.

Contributions range from Saadia Gaon’s 10th century Arabic translation of the Pentateuch to Martin Scorsese’s 1988 film adaptation of The Last Temptation of Christ; from the biblically inspired writings of a late 17th century French galley slave to Paul Ricouer’s reading of The Song of Songs; and from the deep Biblical culture of fifth century Rome to the divisions that biblical verses perpetuated in late 20th century Ulster.

The contributors to this volume include: Cardinal Joseph W Tobin (Newark); Thomas O’Loughlin (University of Nottingham); Cornelius Casey (Trinity College Dublin); Jeremy Corley (Saint Patrick’s College Maynooth); Noel O’Sullivan (SPCM); Michael A Conway (SPCM); Jessie Rogers (SPCM); Martin O’Kane (University of Wales, Trinity Saint David); Kerry Houston (Dublin Institute of Technology); Michael O’Dwyer (Maynooth University); Brian Cosgrove (MU); Diane Corkery (University of Strathclyde); Raphael Gallagher (Alphonsianum, Rome); Terence Kennedy (Alphonsianum, Rome); Padraig Corkery (SPCM); Carol Dempsey (University of Portland, Oregon); Thomas R Whelan (National Centre for Liturgy, Maynooth); Liam Tracey (SPCM); Penelope Woods (SPCM); Ruth Whelan (MU); Elochukwu Uzukwu (Duquesne University); Hugh Connolly (Centre Culturel Irlandais, Paris); John-Paul Sheridan (SPCM); Helen Cashell-Moran (TCD); Katherine Meyer (TCD); Seamus O’Connell (SPCM); Jonathan Kearney (DCU); Patrick Comerford (CITI/TCD); Martin Henry (SPCM); Paul Clogher (Waterford Institute of Technology); and the poet John F Deane.

My contribution to this book, written while I was a lecturer at the Church of Ireland Theological Institute and an adjunct assistant professor in Trinity College Dublin, looks at the life and work of FJA Hort (1828-1892), the Dublin-born member of the ‘Cambridge Triumvirate’ who was an influential figure in translating the Revised Version of the Bible.

Four Courts Press expects to publish The cultural reception of the Bible: explorations in theology, literature and the arts, edited by Salvador Ryan and Liam Tracey, later this Summer. It is planned as 320-page book with colour illustrations (ISBN 978-1-84682-725-9) and a cover price of €50/£45/$70.

A history book to
inform every pub
quiz in Staffordshire

‘Three knocks are always heard at Comberford Hall before the death of a family member’ … a story recalled by Kate Gomez in ‘The Little Book of Staffordshire’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

‘Three knocks are always heard at Comberford Hall before the death of a family member.’

This is one of the many vignettes and stories from history and folklore recorded by Kate Gomez in her delightful new book published last year, The Little Book of Staffordshire (Stroud: The History Press, 2017, £9.99).

It is a story first recorded, as far as I know, by the 17th century historian, Robert Plot, Keeper of the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, who records this superstition about ‘the knocking before the death of any of ... the family of Cumberford of Cumberford in this County; three knocks being always heard at Cumberford-Hall before the decease of any of that family, tho’ the party dyeing be at never so great a distance’ – Robert Plot, The Natural History of Staffordshire (Oxford, 1686), pp 329-330.

Robert Plot (1640-1696) was an English naturalist, the first Professor of Chemistry at the University of Oxford, and the first keeper of the Ashmolean Museum. In his Natural History of Staffordshire, Plot also describes a double sunset viewable from Leek, the Abbots Bromley Horn Dance, and, for the first time, the Polish swan, a pale morph of the mute swan.

Kate Gomez is today’s Dr Plot, sharing details that are sometimes in danger of being passed over by other historians, and she knows how to bring a child-like joy to adults who have a true sense of place.

I bought her book in the Cathedral Shop in Lichfield during my latest visit. It is enriched by her many interests in Lichfield Lore, which gives the name to her blog, and wider Staffordshire lore, from mediaeval graffiti to Sandwells Pumping Station, to old customs like beating the parish bounds, and the lost graves and estates of the Marquesses of Donegall – who also, at one time, owned Comberford Hall.

The knock came at the door for George Augustus Chichester, when he risked his inheritance through his gambling addictions. To pay off his debts, he married the illegitimate daughter of a moneylender, and Fisherwick Hall was inherited instead by his brother Lord Spencer Stanley Chichester.

Fisherwick Hall was eventually demolished, and when rabbits found their way into the Donegall family coffins in Saint Michael’s Church, Lichfield, and the family mausoleum was demolished too.

On a more cheerful note, did you know that Marmite, Pointon’s Sweets, Hovis Bread and Branston Pickle all have their origins in Staffordshire?

Here are the 18 lost villages of Staffordshire, 16 hospitals (though not Dr Milley’s or Saint John’s in Lichfield), 15 royal visits, 14 VCs, 12 members of the Lunar Society, 11 wells, 10 wells, eight lost houses, eight inventions by Erasmus Darwin, seven Staffordshire saints, five castles and five Staffordshire entries in the Guinness Book of Records, four MPs, three cathedral spires, two interlocking church stairs (in Saint Editha’s, Tamworth), the first football knight … and if I reread the book again this morning, I would not be surprised to find that partridge in the pear tree too.

There are stories of royal visits – though no reference how the future Charles I was once a guest of the Comberford family at the Moat House in Tamworth.

There are stories about Izaak Walton, Samuel Johnson, Jane Austen, Philip Larkin, Jonathan Swift, JRR Tolkein, Carol Anne Duffy, AN Wilson – and an unfortunate typographical reference to Irish Murdoch, all the more interesting because Iris Murdoch was Irish-born. And there are stories about ‘Singing Kate’s Hole’, Henry Paget’s lost leg at Waterloo, Bessy Banks’s Grave, headless horsemen, the world’s first-ever long-distance air race, the first man to swim the English Channel, the highest village in England, and the Sleeping Children in Lichfield Cathedral.

The book also rekindles some childhood memories. I am old enough to wave watched Sir Stanley Matthews playing for Stoke City. But I also recalled when I was about 11 or 12 and living in Dublin when some friends introduced me to a schoolboys’ soccer club called Port Vale. I think there was a clubhouse in the Donore Avenue area, but home games were played in Bushy Park in Terenure. I must have been no good, because I only remember playing with Port Vale for a few weeks. But I often wondered why the club was called Port Vale, after a club in the Potteries in North Staffordshire.

To compound those thoughts, I wondered how the original Port Vale got its name as Burslem is so far inland and nowhere near a coastal port. It is a conundrum that was as insoluble as my later teenage questions about why there is a statue of Captain Edward Smith of the Titanic in Beacon Park, about as far inland in England as one can get for a sea captain.

Kate Gomez tells readers that ‘the origins of the name of Port Vale are unclear. One theory is that the club was created at a building called Port Vale House. Others suggest the name comes from a canal wharf near Burslem.’

Kate Gomez blogs at Lichfield Lore, organises the social history group Lichfield Discovered and is Deputy Editor of CityLife in Lichfield and Living in Tamworth. This book is a must for the organisers of any table quiz in Staffordshire. But please, please, be careful about how you come knocking at the door.